Stolen Generations’ voices preserved at National Library

Posted February 13, 2018 12:13:40

Judith Stubbs was just two when she and her five sisters were taken from extended family at the Brewarrina Mission and sent to the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

Her two older brothers were removed to Kinchela. The year was 1943.

Nearly 60 years later Judith recorded her story, breaking down in tears as she recounted the pain of the physical and sexual abuse she endured in the home, and the “brainwashing” against her Indigenous heritage.

“The blacks didn’t want you and the whites didn’t want you,” she said.

“You sit on that fence all your life.”

Judith died in 2016 but her story has been preserved in a unique audio archive at the National Library of Australia (NLA).

Her daughter Rebecca Bateman is the NLA’s newly-appointed Indigenous curator and she said she was determined to make stories such as her mother’s more publicly available.

“Listening to my mum’s story reminds me of what a strong and articulate woman and clever woman she was,” Ms Bateman said.

“She was very passionate about making sure Australia knew what had happened.”

In her oral history, Judith recounted screaming and running away when “an old black man” appeared outside her primary school, calling out to her and her sister Lorraine.

“We were told that [the blacks] were all drunks and no good,” she said.

Years later she learnt that the man was her grandfather.

She never saw him again.

“He must have been absolutely determined to get the girls back,” Ms Bateman said.

“To have that kind of reaction — even though maybe on some level he would have understood where it was coming from — it still would have been really heartbreaking I imagine.”

Oral histories followed royal commission

More than 300 people — survivors and administrators of the child removal policy — were interviewed between 1998 and 2002 for the Bringing Them Home Oral History Project.

A shorter series of follow up recordings was made in 2010, two years after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations.

Ten years on from the apology, Ms Bateman has vivid memories of the day.

“Mum didn’t actually … want to come down to Canberra … to the live apology … she thought it would be too much for her,” she said.

“So I went to her place in Sydney and we sat there and watched it on the TV — both bawled our eyes out.”

At the time, Judith was ambivalent about the apology, wondering what it would mean to her on a day-to-day basis.

“There was some reluctance to accept it for what it was,” Ms Bateman said.

“Although obviously on an emotional level it did mean an enormous amount to her to have that acknowledgement that … yes, this happened.”

Ms Bateman said the oral histories were an important record of recent Australian history and a way to foster understanding.

“There’s still a lot of people who think that all the bad things that happened to Aboriginal people happened 200 years ago,” Ms Bateman said.

“While those misconceptions linger there’s never going to be a full, proper understanding between the entire community.”

A selection of the oral histories are available to listen to online.

Topics: indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, indigenous-policy, library-museum-and-gallery, history, human-interest, canberra-2600

A love letter to water unveiled in curious collection

Updated February 09, 2018 11:49:52

British artist Amy Sharrocks asked and the people of Western Australia delivered.

It was a strange request; bottle your tears, runoff from sprinklers, or any other water that has meaning in your life.

Now the vast and unusual collection has gone on display.

“We have 319 bottles so far of water, any water, in any bottle, that people have given us over the past year,” Sharrocks said.

“We have water of all shapes and sizes. We have the toothpaste spit from a whole family who gathered one evening to collect it.

“We have water from the Canning Dam, water from a sprinkler, from a young girl who said that she wanted fast water so she ran around after the sprinkler trying to catch it.”

There is also a contribution from a woman who collected the amniotic fluid when she gave birth.

“We have so many detailed, intimate moments of people’s lives that they have shared with us.”

Water is essential

Laid out on platforms that resemble ripples or waves, the collection is both an artwork and a historic record.

It will be given to the Western Australian Museum permanently after the display ends at Fremantle Arts Centre.

But why did Sharrocks, who has created so-called museums of water in Britain and the Netherlands, want people to bottle the liquid in their daily lives and put it on display?

“It’s the most essential thing. We can’t live without it for any length of time,” she said.

“It’s a metaphor that we use for thinking all the time. We say, ‘my ideas have dried up’, or we can be ‘flooded with emotion’.

“We claim a connection to water every day, but we also throw it away, step on it, flush it, protect ourselves against it.

“I wanted to just ask people to think a bit more clearly about it.”

Tears from an argument saved

Accompanying each bottle is a handwritten explanation from the donor, telling the story behind the water.

“Some stories are incredibly sad and heartbreaking and some are hilarious,” Sharrocks said.

A teenage girl offered up a large volume of tears she shed during an argument with her mother.

The two hardly ever talked seriously, the girl said, so the moment was quite special.

A group of five friends who have been swimming together for years put their goggles and water from the pool in five glass jars to celebrate their time following the black line.

A midwife brought in a specimen jar of urine.

“She said it’s the urine that I test and that tells me everything about the health of the mum and baby,” Sharrocks said.

“Actually that bottle arrived warm.”

Facing a drier future

The aim of the museum is to encourage people to think about just how important water is in their lives.

“We are facing a drier future,” Sharrocks said.

Cape Town is heading towards day zero, Perth’s water is over 80 per cent from desalination plants.

“That kind of vulnerability of existence here and around the world is a terrifying prospect which we are all facing.

“It felt very timely to ask people what they thought about water, to reconsider how much we need water.

“This is a love letter to water. It’s let me count the ways that I notice how you run through my day.”

Creating the museum in Perth, Sharrocks said she had been struck by the different attitude to water in a drought-prone country.

“You are really good in Western Australia at hoarding it, in your rain tanks, so many people have told me about the buckets and pots they put out.

“You are good at holding on to it, but I wonder if we can all benefit from a little more consideration of how to equip us for this drier future.”

The Museum of Water is on display at Fremantle Arts Centre until March 23 as part of the Perth International Arts Festival.

Topics: visual-art, water, library-museum-and-gallery, carnivals-and-festivals, offbeat, human-interest, perth-6000

First posted February 09, 2018 11:41:31

‘Peephole murder’ files opened to public after 75 years

Posted January 01, 2018 12:00:00

Official documents relating to the brutal 1942 murder of Melbourne pensioner Catherine “Wild Rose” Whitley are now public for the first time.

The 75-year-old files were among hundreds released today by state archives Public Record Office Victoria.

The press at the time labelled the case the “Peephole murder” due to the testimony of 18-year-old motor mechanic Alan Alfred Shaw.

Shaw said he was at work one Saturday in July 1942 when he heard a woman in the back laneway saying, “Don’t do that to me”.

He peeped through a crack in the rear door of the garage and watched a man drag a woman by her ankles to the centre of the laneway and attempt to rape her, punching her three times in the jaw when she resisted.

Shaw ran to get his workmate Edward White, who then peered through the crack, and together they decided to fetch their boss Tasman Knight, who also looked through the opening into the laneway.

Knight took White to call the police, leaving Shaw alone to watch the crime unfold.

The man in the laneway tried several more times to rape the woman, before he stood and walked out of sight as the woman lay on the ground, moving very slightly.

The attacker returned to view carrying a bluestone paving block which he dropped on the woman’s head. She stopped moving.

‘Too drunk’

A two-month police investigation resulted in detectives arresting 32-year-old Frederick Francis Green, who confessed to the murder in a statement.

Green said he left work in South Melbourne at 11:45am on the day in question and had drunk “seven or eight pots of beer” at a city hotel before arriving home in Carlton at 12:45pm.

What are Section 9 files?

  • Some Victorian Government files are kept hidden under Section 9 of the state’s Public Records Act 1973.
  • The section demands “personal or private” government records be withheld from public view for a period of time.
  • Examples include police and prison files, medical records and documents concerning children in state care.
  • Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) holds all state government records in climate-controlled conditions.
  • Section 9 files relating to adults are generally made public after 75 years and those relating to children after 99 years.
  • PROV releases a new batch of Section 9 files each year on January 1.

He washed, ate and changed his clothes before meeting his father at another hotel about 2:00pm where he continued drinking.

“I cannot say how many drinks I had during the day, but it was a lot.”

When Green left the hotel two hours later he encountered an old woman who offered to “go up the lane” with him for five shillings.

He went with her but the two got into an argument and Green recalled hitting her as she lay on the ground.

“I must have been on top of her I suppose but I don’t think that I had any connections with her. I think I was too drunk.”

Confession retracted

Green later added to his confession, admitting to dropping the stone block on the elderly woman’s head, but by the time his trial came around he had changed his story and denied ever meeting the old woman.

Nevertheless, he was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to death by hanging.

Tabloid newspaper Truth focused its coverage of the sentencing on Green’s attractive 26-year-old wife Doris, with whom he had a 10-month-old son.

Leading the story with a large photo of mother and child, Truth tells how Doris and her husband ran to each other outside court after the verdict but were separated by police.

“[They] dropped their hands helplessly and gazed numbly one at the other, both prisoners: he of the police, she of her grief.”

Sentence commuted, victim besmirched

Shortly before Christmas in 1942 the Victorian cabinet commuted Green’s death sentence to 20 years’ imprisonment.

In documents provided to cabinet, released for the first time today, the assistant government medical officer said it was possible Green was so intoxicated that he was unaware of his actions.

Meanwhile, the inspector general of the penal and gaols department described the victim as an “unsavoury character”.

According to police, Whitley was known locally in North Melbourne as Rose Baker or “Wild Rose”, and she had for years been in and out of jail for crimes including indecent behaviour, larceny, drunk and disorderly conduct, obscene language and insufficient means.

Truth again interviewed Doris Green — “a frail but courageous blue-eyed woman” — who maintained her husband’s innocence.

“They say he did it, but nothing they say will ever convince me that he did,” she said.

Topics: 20th-century, murder-and-manslaughter, library-museum-and-gallery, history, historians, human-interest, carlton-3053, melbourne-3000

Secrets of pickpocket family in wartime Melbourne revealed

Posted January 01, 2018 07:00:00

Newly released documents from the 1940s reveal the tactics used by a family of pickpockets operating on the streets of wartime Melbourne.

The criminal trial brief is among hundreds of private Section 9 records held by Victoria’s state archives released to the public today after being closed for 75 years.

What are Section 9 files?

  • Some Victorian Government files are kept hidden under Section 9 of the state’s Public Records Act 1973.
  • The section demands “personal or private” government records be withheld from public view for a period of time.
  • Examples include police and prison files, medical records and documents concerning children in state care.
  • Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) holds all state government records in climate-controlled conditions.
  • Section 9 files relating to adults are generally made public after 75 years and those relating to children after 99 years.
  • PROV releases a new batch of Section 9 files each year on January 1.

Peggy Thomas, her daughter Margaret Burles and Margaret’s husband John fronted court in January 1942 over the pickpocketing of Harold Haimes.

The family was notorious, with 43-year-old Thomas admitting to 63 prior convictions.

Margaret Burles’s father Roy Joseph Neely, aka Charles Thomas, was in Pentridge Prison at the time for “larceny from the person”.

‘Get away from me’

A fitter with the Air Force, Haimes spent much of his war service camped out on the Melbourne Showgrounds.

On the evening of December 23, 1941, he was on leave and walking to a tram in central Melbourne after going to the cinema with a friend.

According to his newly released police statement, he was walking past the Metropole Hotel on Bourke Street when he noticed two women and a man standing outside.

The three were later revealed to be Peggy Thomas and the Burles couple.

Margaret Burles called Haimes over and asked how he was while her mother and husband pressed up against him.

“I said, ‘Get away from me, I don’t want to have anything to do with you’,” Haimes said his statement.

The three backed away, at which point Haimes felt for his wallet and found that it was missing.

“I said, ‘One of you three has my wallet’,” Haimes recalled. “Margaret Burles said, ‘We don’t know what you are talking about’.”

Haimes repeated his accusation but the three ignored him and walked away.

Police had their suspicions

Haimes followed the pickpocketing threesome down a laneway and watched from afar as they stood in a shop doorway for a few minutes before leaving the way they came.

He went over to the shop to find his wallet lying on the ground, empty save his bank book, and followed the thieves back to the Metropole where he saw them hail a taxi.

He noted the taxi number and went to the police.

It seems police suspected Thomas and her kin straight away, as the following week Haimes went with detectives to the Carlton Hotel, which was a favourite haunt of the criminal family.

“I saw the three accused. They were holding their heads down,” Haimes said. “I pointed the three accused out to the detectives with me.”

Peggy Thomas and John Burles were both sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, while Margaret Burles was freed on a good behaviour bond.

“You are still young and have apparently never been set a good example by your mother, who began to lead a disreputable life while you were still a little girl,” Judge Magennis is reported by The Argus newspaper to have said.

“Because you have not had a chance in life I am giving you one now.”

A ‘very thorough’ witness

Haimes died in 2008, survived by his sons David and Ross, neither of whom had ever heard the story of their father being pickpocketed.

David Haimes said his father didn’t mention the story in a history he wrote of his time in the RAAF.

“Either he’d forgotten about it or he figured it wasn’t worth mentioning.”

Ross Haimes said he was not surprised his father had played detective by following the thieves.

“He was pretty thorough.”

He said his father was a kind-hearted and community-minded man who served on the local council in Belmont in Western Australia and volunteered his time for the RSL and local schools.

“The Redcliffe Primary School actually has named their performing arts centre after him.”

Topics: 20th-century, library-museum-and-gallery, history, historians, crime, human-interest, melbourne-3000

Former premier could be pressed in probe over Powerhouse move

Posted December 18, 2017 15:31:37

Former New South Wales premier Mike Baird could be compelled to give evidence over plans to move the Powerhouse Museum to Parramatta in Sydney’s west.

The proposal to relocate the museum from Ultimo in Sydney’s CBD has been a major focus of a New South Wales Upper House inquiry which today released its interim report.

The proposal was announced under Mike Baird’s leadership in 2015 as part of the development of an arts and cultural precinct in Western Sydney.

Deputy chair David Shoebridge said the committee previously asked Mr Baird to front the inquiry and would extend another invitation.

“Now that he’s a private citizen, if he doesn’t come and present voluntarily the committee now has the power to compel him,” he said.

“So we find out exactly what was in the mind of the former premier when this thought bubble, potentially costing taxpayers up to $1.5 billion was created by him and his government.”

The committee has recommended the State Government release a business case for the relocation before it makes a final decision on the plans.

It was scathing in its report over the government’s handling of the process, noting it was “appalled that the decision to relocate the Powerhouse Museum was publicly announced before a preliminary business case had even been prepared for cabinet”.

“The credibility of the relocation decision has been undermined by a lack of genuine community and sector consultation undertaken in relation to the proposed move, and by the secrecy surrounding the funding, relocation costs and business case itself.”

Secrecy still surrounds project

Arts Minister Don Harwin did not say when the report would be released but said the Government had received it.

“At first blush I’m really impressed with what’s been studied by the consultants and their proposall, but with all of these business cases they need to go through a checking process that’s undertaken by Infrastructure NSW and Treasury before the final decision is made to allocate the money,” he said.

“Every project that the New South Wales Government approves has a business case and no final decision is taken until that business case is assessed by the committees of Cabinet before the final decision is taken.”

He also said the cost of the new museum would be “nowhere near” the reported $1.5 billion price tag.

But the Opposition’s arts spokesperson Penny Sharpe said the project was “mired in scandal”.

“There is a cloak of secrecy surrounding the decision to move the Powerhouse Museum and the Berejiklian Government is refusing to explain the rationale behind the decision.

“The Government’s refusal to release the business case just continues the cloak of secrecy over this bungled project.”

Topics: library-museum-and-gallery, state-parliament, sydney-2000

Aboriginal artists return to renowned workshop in Mittagong

Posted December 14, 2017 16:52:04

It was the early 1970s when five young women from the remote Ernabella community in South Australia travelled from the deep desert to the lush Southern Highlands of New South Wales.

There they undertook a ground-breaking weaving residency at the Sturt Workshop in Mittagong.

Now, nearly 50 years later, a group of Ernabella artists, including one of the original women, has returned to the Sturt Workshop to showcase their vibrant art.

The exhibition, In These Hands, also marks the 70-year anniversary of Ernabella Arts, the oldest Indigenous art centre in Australia.

No time to be homesick

Wandering through the grounds of the Sturt Gallery, Atipalku Intjalku recalls her experience as a wide-eyed teenage girl out of her community for the first time to attend the 1972 residency.

“I’m remembering all the people that helped me, and the good times that we had here at Sturt,” Intjalku said.

“Was I homesick? Simply put, no.

“There was so much to learn, everything was new and exciting, everything was different — the trees, the food, the weather, the people and even what we wore!

“I was here for a long time, a few months, learning to weave on a new kind of loom, and a different kind of coloured wool, not the plain white and grey fleece wool that we used from the shearers in Ernabella.”

Historic connection

The sister relationship between Ernabella and Sturt was forged from a chance meeting at the Spinners and Weavers Association in Sydney in the mid to late 1960s.

Winifred Hilliard, Ernabella’s craft room advisor, and artist Nyukama (Daisy) Baker were in town attending an Association workshop.

Sturt’s master weaver Elisabeth Nagel, who was also present, was intrigued by the pair and by Baker’s art.

Their initial conversations sparked a lifelong friendship between the three women and forged the unique relationship between the two art centres.

In 1968, at Ms Hilliard’s invitation, Nagel travelled by mail plane from Alice Springs to the missionary community of Ernabella, on APY Lands, surrounded by stunning desert country.

Nagel was impressed by the work coming out of the art centre, and by the spirit of the community, and hatched a plan to have some of the young Ernabella women come to the Sturt workshop to extend their knowledge and skills in weaving.

Creativity blossomed with confidence

Slavica Zivkovic, co-curator of the In These Hands exhibition, spoke with a now elderly Nagel to gain an insight into the residencies that took place in 1971 and 1972.

“Elisabeth Nagel recalled that the young Ernabella women were immediately delighted by the great skeins of colourful commercial wool hanging in the studio,” Ms Zivkovic said.

“At first, Nagel’s weaving instructions were purely about technique — such as warping that required accurate counting methods — and the young women needed constant support.

“But as the young artists slowly grew with quiet confidence, their creativity blossomed.

“In the evening, the artists would do their coloured-pencil Walka drawings — patterns based on their surroundings.

“These would be translated into tapestries and floor rugs, incorporating a thread palette selected by the artists.

“The young artists became very much a part of the Sturt family and for Nagel, the residencies were not just about teaching techniques, but encouraging self-development and acceptance of culture.”

Intjalka has her own fond memories of Nagel from the 1972 residency.

“Miss Nagel looked after us the whole time,” she said.

“She taught us weaving and we taught her a little of our own language, Pitjantjara.

“On the weekends, sometimes we travelled by train to Sydney, we went to the harbour and caught a boat to the zoo.”

Australia’s oldest Indigenous arts centre

The skills and life experience the young artists gained at Sturt helped to shape the direction of Ernabella Arts, and continue to have influence as their knowledge is passed onto the next generation.

Original Sturt residency weaver Atipalku Intjalka has been accompanied on her return trip by several Ernabella artists who are visiting their sister arts centre for the first time.

They include ceramicist and exhibition co-curator Alison Milyika Carroll, ceramicist Lynette Lewis, and current chair of Ernabella Arts Tjunkaya Tapaya.

Tapaya is quietly proud of Ernabella Arts’ achievements.

“The Ernabella craft room started in 1948, the year before I was born, and it was the first art centre of its kind in Australia,” she said.

“When it first started it was only for women, and they were spinning sheep wool and making rugs and as I watched on as a little girl, I decided that would be the work I would do when I grew up.

“Then a new craft room was built, and then the young girls, young boys, and men started coming in to learn art and learning from the old people.

“Over the years, Ernabella artists have created work using many different materials and methods, including weaving, fibre arts, ceramics, and now painting as well.”

Art carries stories for next generation

As they move the through the Sturt Gallery, getting a sneak preview of the exhibition, the visiting Ernabella artists reflect on their art works.

Both Intjalka and Tapaya practice Tjanpi weaving, using natural desert grasses, seeds and feathers, together with commercially-bought raffia, string, and wool to create dioramas and large-scale installation sculptures.

“In the missionary time, we’d all go to church so I’m remembering this time from when I was a kid,” Tapaya said of a beautiful little church she has crafted.

Carroll said she feels it is all about the stories contained within the art.

“Telling stories, you know, stories, Tjukurpa,” she said.

“When we paint, and weave, and make art, we talk to the young people about Tjukurpa, dreamtime stories, and the stories are in the canvas and ceramics.

“Now it’s getting big for young people to work and learn about arts.

“When we’re gone, the art centre will be still there for our young people to make beautiful things for our future — the young people.”

In These Hands, Celebrating 70 Years of Ernabella Arts, runs at the Sturt Gallery in Mittagong until February 11, 2018.

Topics: contemporary-art, visual-art, arts-and-entertainment, indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, indigenous-culture, community-and-society, library-museum-and-gallery, art-history, women, ernabella-0872, mittagong-2575, alice-springs-0870, sydney-2000

Melbourne Museum turns itself ‘inside out’, displaying usually hidden items

Posted December 09, 2017 06:00:46

It’s easy to get lost in the maze of hallways and rooms which contain Melbourne Museum’s hidden archive of treasures.

Some of the items in the 17-million-piece collection are so precious, finger print technology is used to open locked doors.

But once you’re in, there’s no telling what you might find.

“The museums are like an iceberg, there’s only the very, very tip ever on display,” Museums Victoria’s chief executive Lynley Marshall said.

“Most of the public never get to see what is stored in this museum, because there’s not more than 1 per cent of the collection on display at any one time.

“So when you get to see all these objects, you have a sense of ‘I wish more people could see more of this’.”

A new exhibition called Inside Out aims to display some of the most special items re-discovered by curators.

Some pieces have never been seen by the public.

Among them:

  • A cabinet of more than 200 taxidermied humming birds collected by famous English ornithologist John Gould.
  • An collection of 13,000 eggs from Australian birds, collected by Henry Luke White.
  • A silver dress designed by Prue Action in 1985.
  • A taxidermied collection of rare birds and other animals.
  • Precious stones which have long been hidden in the geology department.

A taxidermied Tasmanian tiger which was acquired by Hobart Zoo is also going to be put on display.

Steven Sparrey, the manager of the museum’s preparation department, has spent weeks restoring the specimen.

“The actual specimen itself is in quite good condition, and tells a lovely story about how taxidermists would have worked on and prepared these specimens a long time ago,” he said.

“We haven’t got a huge amount of these specimens as part of our collection, so it’s really important what we do have is in the best possible condition they can be in.”

The public will be able to see the 350 carefully selected items when the exhibition opens just before Christmas.

“You are going to see the most incredible collection of objects,” Ms Marshall said.

“That’s what bringing the behind the scenes out, turning the museum inside out, means for us.

“Bringing those beautiful items out so everyone can see them.”

Topics: arts-and-entertainment, library-museum-and-gallery, community-and-society, history, melbourne-3000, vic